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Three Ways: Shrubs

Whether they’re adding complexity to a cocktail or serving as the base of a spirit-free beverage, shrubs are versatile ingredients that can include and complement a spectrum of flavors. Derived from the Arabic word sharab, simply meaning “to drink,” shrubs first experienced popularity as a means to preserve and enjoy fruits in a pre-industrial America—essentially, before preservatives and refrigerators came into use. A shrub’s simple makeup of vinegar, sugar, and (typically) fruit lays a sweet and acidic foundation that’s easy to pair with other ingredients, or simply enjoy on its own with a splash of soda or tonic.

Strawberry Balsamic Shrub

Bar director Nathan McCullough at The Wolves in Downtown Los Angeles levels up an adaptable strawberry shrub with the addition of balsamic vinegar for the Phases of Fraise, a cocktail that marries the syrup with vodka, yellow Chartreuse, and lime. “Strawberries and balsamic vinegar are a classic pairing, so it only made sense to try a shrub with it,” he explains.

1 lb strawberries (crowns cut)
1 cup white sugar
1/2 cup apple cider vinegar
1 oz. balsamic vinegar

Tools: sealable container, fine mesh strainer

To prepare the shrub, mash the strawberries in a container until broken down, then add the rest of the ingredients. Cover and let it rest at room temperature for 3 days, then pour through a fine mesh strainer, pressing down on the pulp to extract as much liquid as possible. Bottle for use within 4 weeks.

To make the Phases of Fraise, add 1 1/2 oz. of vodka, 3/4 oz. of the strawberry shrub, 2 barspoons of yellow Chartreuse, 1/4 oz. of honey simple syrup (1:1), and 1 oz. of fresh lime juice to a shaker. Add ice, shake, and double strain into a coupe.

Nathan McCullough, The Wolves, Los Angeles

Tropical Shrub

At Retrograde in Denver, beverage director Paul Larkin compares shrub mixology to music production, likening shrubs to “the Wall of Sound in music, but for cocktails.” Larkin takes advantage of a shrub’s limitless layering capacity to build a complex tropical shrub that goes well with spirits, such as in the bar’s popular cocktail, Alien Apocalypse. “There are subtle hints of heat in the finish, tropical sweetness, and light suggestions of baking spice; all the things a great boat drink should offer,” he explains.

16 oz. apple cider vinegar
16 oz. demerara sugar
4 oz. chopped fresh pineapple
4 oz. chopped papaya
1 bunch roughly chopped cilantro
2oz. chopped ginger
1 sliced jalapeño
4 crushed allspice berries

Tools: large sealable jar, strainer

To make the shrub, combine all the ingredients in a large sealable jar. Seal and then stir daily over a period of 5 days, then strain off and discard the solids. Rebottle for use within 3 weeks, refrigerated.

To make the Alien Apocalypse, add 2 oz. of Japanese whisky (such as Suntory Toki), 1/2 oz. of tropical shrub, 1/4 oz. of maple-soy sauce (2:1 maple syrup to soy, gently heated to incorporate), and 1 fresh egg white to a shaker and shake well with ice. Strain, then shake again without ice to get the cocktail frothy. Double strain into a coupe, spritz with peach liqueur, and decorate with aromatic bitters.

Paul Larkin, Retrograde, Denver

Raspberry Shrub

At New York City bar Holywater, their simple raspberry shrub serves as the base for an alcohol-free Raspberry Cream. “The shrub provides a complexity to a drink that a juice or soda can’t deliver,” explains general manager Patrick Dudek. “The shrub with soda water on its own is quite enjoyable, but the cream in our rendition adds that little bit of richness that makes it really special.”

1 qt white sugar
1 qt hot water
8 cups raspberries
1/4 cup Champagne vinegar

Tools: blender or immersion blender, fine-mesh sieve

To prepare the shrub, mix the white sugar with hot water, using a blender or immersion blender to dissolve the sugar. Let the syrup cool, then add the raspberries and blend again. Strain through a fine-mesh sieve, then add the Champagne vinegar to the strained mixture and stir to combine. Store in the refrigerator and use within 1 month.

To make Raspberry Cream, combine 1 1/2 oz. of Seedlip Grove, 1 oz. of raspberry shrub, 1/2 oz. of fresh lemon juice, and 1/2 oz. of heavy cream in a shaker and shake with ice, then strain into a chilled coupe and garnish with a raspberry and mint leaf.

Patrick Dudek, Holywater, New York City

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